Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What's Stress Got to Do With It?

Getting away on vacation is always so relaxing - there is nothing like kicking back and just doing whatever, whenever you want! Not only does getting away from the daily grind of life allow to you unwind and not think about much, it relaxes body and mind, which reduces stress that you often don't realize you have in your daily life. So while I often get emailed asking "you're going away again?" - I can't help but resume my blog posts with a study just published in Nature Medicine, Neuropeptide Y acts directly in the periphery on fat tissue and mediates stress-induced obesity and metabolic syndrome.

As was reported in the Washington Post today, "Scientists reported yesterday that they have uncovered a biological switch by which stress can promote obesity, a discovery that could help explain the world's growing weight problem and lead to new ways to melt flab and manipulate fat for cosmetic purposes.

In a series of experiments on mice, researchers showed that the neurochemical pathway they identified promotes fat growth in chronically stressed animals that eat the equivalent of a junk-food diet. Researchers found that laboratory mice subjected to daily stress and also fed a high-fat diet for a few weeks became obese. (Georgetown University Medical Center) The international team also showed that blocking those signals can prevent fat accumulation and shrink fat deposits and that stimulating the pathway can strategically create new deposits -- possibly offering new ways to remove fat as well as to mold youthful faces, firmer buttocks and bigger breasts.

"It's very exciting," said Zofia Zukowska of Georgetown University's Department of Physiology and Biophysics, who led the research, published online by the journal Nature Medicine. "This could be revolutionary.""

The study findings are being heavily reported in the media and most are highlighting the potential for pharmaceutical development, but few are talking about the real implications of the findings - can reduction of stress in real life lead to lower weight and a decreased risk of developing chronic disease?

Before I delve into that, first let's see what the researchers did in their experiments. The study was an animal model that involved mice. The researchers divided the mice into various groups - some ate a "normal" mouse diet, some ate a high fat, high sugar "junk-food" mouse diet. To see the effect of stress on the mice with each diet, some mice were highly stressed while others were allowed to carry on as mice do in their cages.

Unstressed mice consuming the "normal" diet did not gain weight.

Unstressed mice consuming the "junk food" diet did not gain weight.

Stressed mice consuming their "normal" diet did not gain weight.

Stressed mice consuming the "junk food" did gain weight.

This finding, especially if replicated in future studies, is critically important in our understanding of diet and health. This is because the findings showed that it was not diet alone that stimulated weight gain, nor was it stress alone. It was the specific combination of stress coupled with what researchers described as a "high-fat, high-sugar" diet that led to weight gain.

And not just any weight gain, but specifically fat accumulation in the belly - visceral fat; which we now understand is more detrimental to long-term health than subcutaneous fat which accumulates in places like the butt, thighs or arms. The stressed mice consuming a junk food diet also experienced glucose intolerance, elevated blood pressure, inflammation of the blood vessels and fat accumulation in the liver and in muscle tissue.

Simply put, they developed Metabolic Syndrome.

They did this not consuming excessive calories either - the researchers noted that the weight gain and fat accumulation in the stressed mice consuming the junk food diet was greater than expected given the calories consumed. Yet the mice consuming the same diet who were not stressed did not gain weight.

So it wasn't just the diet that mattered, it wasn't just stress that mattered; what mattered was the stress together with a junk food diet that conspired with each other to disrupt the production and pathways of neuropeptide Y (NPY).

Which leaves me wondering and pondering about many of the different dots still to be connected as we move forward to resolve the "obesity epidemic"...in the coming days I'm going to present additional data and studies to see what dots we might connect and what might be our solutions in the future.

I'll leave you with what Lou Shuler noted in his Male Pattern Fitness blog yesterday:

So, according to news reports, the "breakthrough" is a magic bullet that will selectively reduce fat deposits. Then there's some kind of opposite pill that will put fat on in selected places. If it works out in human experiments, somebody will make billions of dollars off these pills. I'm happy for them -- I wouldn't mind having some extra commas on my balance sheets -- but let's not forget that it'll be years before people will be able to use this chemical liposuction.

Meanwhile, anybody can stop eating junk food now. Today. The FDA doesn't have to give you permission to not enter the drive-through. The U.S. Patent Office doesn't have to put its seal on your decision not to supersize. It's here, it's free, it's open-source. It's dietary Linux. It doesn't discriminate by race, gender, religion, or income.

And it couldn't be simpler: All you have to do is eat something besides junk food.

It's so easy I couldn't even write a book about it. Chapter 1 tells you not to eat junk food. There is no chapter 2.

Why isn't that discovery being treated as the breakthrough, and the possibility of magic pills as an interesting sidebar?

Oh, yes - and as requested in emails while I was away, some pictures from our vacation:

Driving a boat on Norfork Lake, AR:

The big guy, with a mighty big fish:

My little guy, two months shy of his third birthday!


  1. Lovely pics! What a great healthy looking family you have.

    In the couple years that I went from about 130 to 330 or so abruptly in my early 20's, I was under enormous chronic stress, as well as sleep deprivation and forced sedentary (4.5 hours of commute a day, school at night, 10hr job in day). When I ate, usually once a day at 1am prior to falling into bed but occasionally a lunch too, it was fast food, as driving-by was my only chance to grab something. I gained so much weight so fast that my stretch marks make me look like a tabby cat! ;-) I've long been convinced that a lot of this probably related as much to the stress and sleep deprivation as to the junk food and sedentary part.

  2. With the reduced stress, you should be now able to eat junk food!

  3. Nice Bass! Sugar causes stress! The irony is that this fact is so little known and so little understood!

  4. Anonymous5:01 PM

    I just recently went to see Dr. Wilshire and he directed me to this site. Thank you guys so much.:) I am one of those PCOS and hypothyroid patients.

    I loved your pictures and was wondering what city you guys were at when you put in Northfork Lake.

    I am from that area and have been in many parts of that Lake. Just curious.


  5. Hi Lindsee!

    I loved your pictures and was wondering what city you guys were at when you put in Northfork Lake.

    I think we were officially staying in Mountain Home? We stayed in an area near Tracy Marina. Beautiful area - Lake Norfork is, without a doubt, one of the cleanest lakes I've ever been in!

    Glad you stopped by - hope you find some good information here at my blog!


  6. Anonymous2:47 PM

    I would love them to repeat the experiment 2 more times like this:

    (1) junk food = high-fat but low-sugar

    (2) junk food = high-sugar but low-fat